‘Cuidad’ sees light

Echo Lake, Zeitgeist build buzz for Spanish-lingo pic

“La Ciudad” is Spanish for city. It’s also the setting of an unusual marketing push that is helping a pic, which chronicles urban life, reach often-elusive Latino auds.

The American-made “La Ciudad,” written and directed by NYU grad David Riker, screened at several high-profile festivals starting in Toronto in 1998. It appeared a year ago as an American Spectrum selection at Sundance. Many critics tossed bouquets, with Roger Ebert likening it to Italian neo-realist classic “The Bicycle Thief.”

But “La Ciudad” languished for months without a distributor before Zeitgeist finally stepped in.

Not sexy

“It’s not a sexy sell,” said Robin Alper, veep of L.A.-based Echo Lake Prods., which funded the film along with ITVS. “It’s black and white and it’s in Spanish and it’s so truthful that it’s not easy to watch.”

Given the target market, she added, “Every acquisitions person we talked to said, ‘We love the film. We just don’t know what to do with it.’ ”

“La Ciudad,” shot in 16mm for about $500,000, details the experiences of Latin American immigrants living in Gotham. Unlike Spanish-lingo efforts from Pedro Almodovar or Robert Rodriguez, pic doesn’t have a built-in arthouse aud.

In a 10-week run from Oct. 22 through year end, pic managed to pull in about $125,000.

Latino auds pay off

But over the four-day Martin Luther King weekend, pic was relaunched at three theaters in sections of Gotham with high Latino populations. It grossed $12,976, higher in two sites than totals for weekend winner “Next Friday.”

Under an unusual pact, Zeitgeist let Echo Lake take the reins on the Latino area release. It’ll share grosses with Zeitgeist, which also relaunched “La Ciudad” last weekend on four arthouse screens in other cities.

Echo Lake waged a grass-roots effort with Spanish posters, fliers and 1-800 numbers aimed at local residents. Zeitgeist had made a similar push for the pic’s arthouse run, and many Latinos did make a trip across town to see it, reported company co-chief Emily Russo.

Talking it up

But Echo Lake is focusing instead on building neighborhood buzz. And execs are certainly cheered by the MLK results, even though Echo Lake, a small, 3-year-old company, lacks the resources to bring the same novel release strategy to any more U.S. markets.

Prexy Doug Mankoff hopes someone will carry the baton — if not on “La Ciudad,” then on future Latino releases.

“It’s a very serious film about Latinos, not just one that’s aimed at them,” he said. “I think that’s why it’s been getting this kind of response.”

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